Lessons learned from cleaning toilets.
At the age of 10, my father had the bright idea to ship me off to boarding school. As was the custom in the school, daily work portions were shared out to all the junior students and punishment awaited anyone who failed to do his portion. One bright morning in JSS2, I was assigned to clean the toilets. But these were not just any set of toilets. No, this particular toilet building located behind the senior block, was unarguably the most disgusting in the boys’ hostel. In funny irony, it wad called ‘Parlour’ by the students. Nobody wanted to clean parlour. If a school prefect hated you, parlour was your punishment.
“But I did nothing to senior Jimmy”, I thought to myself, “Why would he tell me to clean parlour? And for the rest of this week!”. Having passed through the 5 stages of grief, I was down to acceptance and I and my fellow parlour compatriot, Akinola, took our buckets of water and went to work shoving faeces and cleaning the floors. It was nauseating, but somehow by the time we were done, parlour was spotless. You could literarily sit down and eat breakfast in parlour without being grossed out. Parlour had become a beautiful place, and I and Akin, my fellow parlour comrade patted ourselves on the back for a job well done.
By the time students came back from class, they saw how neat parlour was and were all in awe. Word reached our house Captain, Jimmy, and guess what? Yup. He retained Akin and I at parlour for almost a month when our parlour time was only supposed to last 1 week. Talk about the reward for hard wrok.
Lessons From Parlour
For some reason, the experience from parlor stuck with me long after the event. Should we have purposely done a terrible job so Senior Jimmy would change us more quickly? Did we become victims of our own efficiency? Were we low-key masochists? However those questions paled in comparison to the bigger question in my mind; ‘How was I able to overcome my disgust and do a good job’?
After much thought, my conclusion was that we were able to do an excellent job at a task we hated, simpy because we applied ourselves to it. We made up our minds to be excellent and we were. It did not matter what the task was. Indeed, the nature of the task was irrelevant. We decided within ourselves that the quality of work we gave was a reflection of the quality of individuals we were and not a function of the nature of the job. Thus leaving it poorly done told badly on us as individuals, not on the toilet. We didnt like our circumstances, but we decided to make the most of it.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”-Aristotle
I recently met a person at LBS who had a first-class at undergraduate level. As we chatted, I found out that this fellow was not even passionate about the course she studied! But she had excellent grades all through! I was about to ask how she did it, but then I remembered my parlour experience. She needed not say more. Passion is important, but discipline will take you a lot further than passion alone ever would.
I believe passion only oils the wheels of success. But discipline is what actually powers the engine.
Learning new stuff
Coming to this MBA, we settled it in our minds that we were going to be bombarded with new information. Especially those of us who had no background in finance. But my memories from parlour have assured me that even in this place, I can distinguish myself if I deliberately chose to. Passion is not enough. Discipline is required.
Thus when Mr Francis comes with his wierd debits and credits, and Dr Bongo throws binomial distributions around, I will rest assured in the fact that I, even I, can do this. I will succeed, not because it is easy, and not just because I am passionate to learn anything. No, I will succeed because I am disciplined enough to put in the work. Discipline will beat talent and passion any day of the week.
Thus, even if reading certain courses feels like moving mental shit, I will pick up my bucket of water and get to work.
Will you join me?